What informs the focus of this year’s fair on East Africa?
This is the 9th year of the annual FNB JoburgArtFair. We have over the years grown into a premier event that leads conversations about African contemporary and modern art appreciation on the continent. The Fair has provided art gallerists, curators and collectors who visit the fair with an unrivalled opportunity to discover art practices from not only Southern Africa where we are based, but in recent years, West Africa too. East Africa, on the other hand, as a vast geographic region, has remained largely underrepresented in South Africa and this became an exciting curatorial challenge for us. This year’s Special Projects programme will manifest as an invitational section that spotlights the artistic landscape of East Africa. This will feature a selection of leading artists and art spaces from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. The focus comprises solo exhibitions, site speciﬁc installations and a number of group presentations. The highlight is the 2016 Featured Artist, Wangechi Mutu (Kenya) presented by Joburg’s new art precinct Keyes Art Mile. Serge Alain Nitegeka (Burundi) will show a site-speciﬁc sculptural installation presented by Stevenson, while Sanaa Gateja (Uganda) shows two large-scale, site-speciﬁc works presented by Afriart. Further solo presentations by Aida Muluneh (Ethiopia), Jim Chuchu (Kenya) and the Nest Collective (Kenya) are key to the focus.
Are there plans to continue this focus on other regions in subsequent editions of the fair?
To truly live up to our role as a pioneering art event on the continent, we have to continue to lead the conversation and create greater opportunities for art dealers, collectors and creators to ﬁnd each other beyond the conﬁnes of their regional localities. It is by developing these interactions through events like the FNB JoburgArtFair that we will unlock the potential of the art sector as a driver of economic transformation.
What are your expectations?
This edition marks the eve of the 10 year anniversary of the FNB JoburgArtFair. In gearing up for this special milestone our objective is to produce a world class event to secure the fair as a critical role player and thought leader. To this end, we initiated and curated the TEDxJohannesburg Talks with the aim of making the conversation around African art accessible to a broader audience. Made possible by the support Ogojiii magazine, this will be ﬁrst ever TEDxJohannesburg Salon to be themed on the contemporary visual arts of Africa. The programme includes singular presentations, conversations and live performances that will be ﬁlmed and streamed live within the Fair. The speakers range from artist William Kentridge, US collector Pamela Joyner, the Tate Modern’s Zoe Whitely to local performer Manthe Ribane and arts activist Buhlebezwe Siwani from iQhiya Arts Collective. These talks will run alongside the Fair at the Theatre on the Square on 10 September.
The Joburg Art Fair enjoys a reputation as a pioneer art fair focused on the promotion of contemporary art in Africa. With fairs like 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair in London, the Cape Town Art Fair and now AKAA all focusing on contemporary art from the continent, how has your fair managed to remain so relevant?
It’s is important to note that we don’t see ourselves as being in competition with these other art fairs. In fact, we believe we all have an important role in developing the contemporary African art market. The most intriguing characteristic about the FNB JoburgArtFair is that it is based somewhat on two different models – that of a biennale and a commercial art fair. As the largest and most established fair on the continent, our unique position presents a challenge to provide the ideal commercial environment for sales, while fulﬁlling the impossible desire to concentrate the inﬁnite worlds of contemporary African art in a single place. The Fair is the longest running and largest among the other African art fairs and we have have always had a deep commitment, not merely in terms of promoting work by artists from the continent, but whom also have an African perspective. This commitment to a long term, and sustainable vision is what provides the Fair with continued relevance.
What impact will this proliferation of fairs have on contemporary African art in the foreseeable future?
The primary role that any art fair enjoys is to provide a context where art dealers and collectors of various weights and persuasions can gather to purchase art. Fairs also create a rare entry points for new comers to contemporary art. This means events like the FNB JoburgArtFair have an audience development role too. There are people who discover a love for contemporary African art through the art fair and grow into important industry players. In turn this can help grow the sector by developing the market for the work produced by our artists. So art fairs inject crucial cultural and economic energy into our unfolding social experience.